In this episode

Storytelling isn’t exclusive to marketing and communications. It’s essential for a variety of organizational functions. In this episode, Gabriel Cohen sits down with Indeed’s Aidan McLaughlin to discuss how to break down barriers to create invigorating and inspirational stories. He walks us through the concept of story discipline, a digestible concept with a complex process which emphasizes key messages to enable consistent and adaptable communication. Aidan also shares about his storytelling training within Indeed and a film investment program that gives voice and opportunity to filmmakers from minority groups.

About the Brand Enabled podcast & all episodes

About Aidan McLaughlin

As an ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) Brand Director, Aidan plays a pivotal role in driving sustainable and responsible business practices while building a strong brand reputation. His focus extends beyond traditional marketing responsibilities, encompassing strategic initiatives that align with the organization’s ESG goals and values. He blends sustainability, brand management, and strategic leadership to make a positive impact on society, the environment, and the company’s bottom line.

Read the episode transcript

In this episode, I’m joined by Aidan McLaughlin from He has one of the most interesting and unique titles that I’ve ever heard in the world of brand and marketing. A lot of people have probably heard of Aidan, it’s great to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by telling us what is a Global Director of ESG Brand and do you know anyone else in the world that even has that title?

Thanks so much for having me on. I’m excited to have this conversation. I believe there’ll be more ESG Brand Directors as we move into this future where organizations have to be conscious of the impact they’re having on society, the environment, and the way businesses are run will have an impact on equity in the world. My role at Indeed is to both look at the ESG commitments we’ve made as an organization and ensure that we’re telling that story to the world both internally and externally and to our stakeholders outside of the organization.

Indeed has made this bold commitment to helping 30 million job seekers facing barriers get hired by 2030. My job is to figure out how we infuse that mission into our brand work, but also, what are the brand levers we can pull to help more people who face barriers get hired? It’s fascinating work. It’s incredibly nuanced. The more you learn about these barriers, whether it’s people with criminal records, disability, people who don’t have college degrees, or veterans, the more you realize you don’t know anything and you’re starting fresh. That’s incredibly challenging and I always felt in all of the roles I’ve had, as long as you’re learning you’re in a good place.

Is it semantics then? If someone’s reading this say, “That’s not new. I’ve got someone in my organization who has a CSR title or has an impact title.” Is there something important or significant about the specifics of your role at Indeed and what that title represents that’s different?

One, it’s the measurement piece. There’s a very clear measurement attached to that and the OKR of helping four million people a year facing barriers get hired and tying my impact to those goals is incredibly important. The semantics will change. The exciting thing about ESG is that it’s what investors are looking for brands and companies to show their ESG work and they’re willing to invest in that.

You have a bit of a backlash that’s emerging but the arc of progress is towards organizations being clear about the impact they’re having on the world and that they’re the companies that will win out in the future. I firmly believe that. The more I can do from a brand standpoint to help indeed tell that story and meet those ambitious goals, that’s where I want to be with my work.

What’s interesting about it isn’t so much the title itself, but it’s where you live within the org structure. A lot of other organizations would love to hear from you because you’re probably a lot closer to this. The people who are in that CSR or impact role don’t necessarily come in through in marketing or in that brand role. They’re adjacent to it. Would you agree with that and does that matter?

No, I think that’s right. In my role, I’m very much partnered with our social impact team. I meet with them daily. I understand what they’re doing on the ground, what they’re doing in the US, and what they’re doing globally. Also, working with our product teams. One of the things we’re doing is we have heavy product backing to come up with equitable hiring solutions within the product. That’s fascinating work.

Also, sitting in marketing, I can advocate for a budget for these programs. Understanding how budget gets allocated, how to talk to the business, and how to influence leadership to ensure that not only are these programs supported from a social impact point of view, but how do we influence all of our marketing to reflect the work that we’re doing from an ESG and values perspective. That’s both in the type of stories we tell. Who gets to tell those stories? Who’s the director of a commercial spot? Who are the actors that we choose? How do we ensure that there’s true representation in front of the lens and behind the lens but also in the agencies we work with?

We are making sure that we’re looking at underrepresented minorities being part of our agency mix and businesses owned and operated by underrepresented minorities being part of our agency suite. We are always challenging the business to think about whether are we selecting the agencies based on the merits or is it because I’ve worked with that agency before. There’s a lot of that that goes on and a lot of budget is spent in that way. I have the remit to interrogate and ensure that there’s a balance to be struck there from an equitable lens.

It’s because coming from that side of the fence, we’ve seen a huge uptick in when we’re involved in new opportunities and having to address those things with rigor. Luckily, we’d started our program before the big change started to happen, but it’s critical now. You can’t just get away with having platitudes. You have to be committed to a program.

It’s important work.

Take a step back a second. Give us a quick background on Indeed because many people might have heard of it. They might think of it as a jobs or recruitment website, but give us a bit more of a background on Indeed for the uninitiated.

Indeed is one of the world’s largest job-matching platforms. We bring over 300 million job seekers to the marketplace for jobs with employers. We also have one of the largest databases of company reviews and salary databases in the world. It’s where the world goes to get jobs essentially.

What I found interesting is with the type of role that you are in being relatively new in a lot of organizations, it’s interesting seeing how varied the background is of people who come into this role. Maybe talk about your early career and how it shaped you. What was the trajectory that brought you into the role of being a global director of an ESG brand?

We had met and I gave you some of the brief, but I thought about it more deeply. I left Ireland in 1999 to go to a university in the States. I went to the US assuming a scholarship. I think that was the biggest moment that changed my career trajectory because I was shifted out of Irish society and the way Irish people think about the world. I landed in Ohio in the Midwest of America and was confronted with an entirely different reality.

It’s a much more diverse population, an American idea, and an American story that at times was jarring. Someone once said that if the Americans spoke a different language, you would realize how different a country it is. Sometimes you think just because it’s English speaking that it’s like the UK or Ireland. It was entirely different. I was incredibly homesick the first year. I wanted to go back to Ireland with my tail between my legs, but I forced myself to stay. I ended up spending six years in the States and I was studying Psychology in college.

However, what fascinated me was I used to drive a lot around Ohio because it’s such a massive state and I listened to AM radio a lot. It was the first time I ever encountered politics as entertainment. You had a lot of right-wing radio stations and they were incredibly disciplined with talking points. The things you would hear on the morning show on the radio would end up being the same talking points on Fox News that evening. To me, there was something fascinating about that story discipline. The politics were entirely different from my own but I was fascinated to understand more and understand the why behind that type of work.

I found myself entering into public relations, understanding mass communications, persuasion, and corporate communications. I began working in Ogilvy in Chicago and then I came back to Ireland. I spent years in PR. I joined Indeed very early on in the organization where we were only 800 people. We were 15,000 then globally. I set up a PR function for Indeed, which again was operating PR functions in different countries and different markets as the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and Australia.

Again, I was diving into cultural nuance and understanding how to tell the Indeed story to different cultures at different times and getting it wrong a lot of the time but also understanding sometimes. How to capture the news agenda in a country whether it’s data or story. That was the beginning. I then moved out of that role into a storytelling role which I created alongside the previous CMO Paul D’Arcy. That got into storytelling that infused our values. Telling the stories of job seekers who got a job on Indeed and how it changed their lives.

I think then the organization saw that there was a way we could tell our story that had deep cultural resonance through different platforms, whether it’s podcasting, film, or online video. We explored that and then the opportunity came up to do that in a deeper and more programmatized way on the ESG side of things. That’s a long-winded way of explaining the story but it comes back to persuasion at the core. It was the thing that’s always fascinated me.

One of the things I found interesting about the US society is that there’s a contradiction sometimes or there are certain roles in which you can show up and call yourself an expert. I could just show up and say, “I’m a storytelling expert,” and no one’s going to say, “Show me your diploma and certificate.” Interestingly, if you want to be an interior designer, you need to be licensed because if you choose the wrong color of pink, that could be very dangerous.

However, for storytelling that isn’t the case. I think because of that it gets very overused and a lot of people maybe who don’t understand storytelling feel qualified to talk about storytelling. In your mind, if storytelling was something that you needed a certification for in order to be approved, what would those skills and qualities be? How would you prove that you are an accredited storyteller if you will, in your mind?

One of the things that I took on a number of years ago is to find as many reference points for storytelling as possible. I think it was a book by Will Storr, The Science of Storytelling that set me off on my journey but also Into the Woods by John Yorke who set up the BBC Writers Academy. It appears to me that you would both have to take writing courses, whether that’s screen or scriptwriting. You’d have to take Literature and understand the structure of the story as it is best understood.

However, I also think then you would have to take psychology courses. You’d have to understand how people operate in the world and that would take in some behavioral science, I would imagine. Also, you would have to understand how the brain works. You would have to have some underpinnings in neuroscience. I think there’s plenty more that you could take on whether it’s Anthropology or Religious Studies.

When you think about the greatest stories ever told are always coming from that spiritual bent. You would structure a course that would have all of those components and probably we should do that because one of the things that holds us back as professionals in this space is the lack of professional accreditation. However, if you think about the story as a technology, it’s the oldest technology we have for moving society in a direction.

The idea of persuasion and reasoning with groups is not necessarily to get to the correct answer, but it’s to get to the answer that most people agree with. We have to understand the story, both the stories we tell ourselves but also the stories that others tell themselves. Also, it’s within the meeting of those two things that we can get the most amount of people to move in the direction we need them to move.

How important is it as someone who would be accredited inside your own organization when you’re meeting with others to upskill them on some of these aspects? Do you see that as a general gap even internally? How important is it that more people not just in marketing or brand but across other parts of the organization understand this?

One of the things I’ve done for a long time within Indeed is offer storytelling training and facilitating. That’s across HR, sales, CS, legal, and product to get the components of this because at all times in an organization, whether we’re trying to get a budget for our projects or to update leadership on a project, we have to craft a story. Often, we get obsessed with what we’re trying to say and we forget to think about the listening of the people we’re trying to persuade.

I’ve offered that up for years and I think that has helped the organization move in a direction around storytelling. Also, invariably you’re working with senior leaders and they’re in the weeds of their work and forget sometimes that that there’s a bigger narrative out there in the world. They may be the SVP of XYZ, but an average audience at a conference that they’re speaking to doesn’t think of them at that and they have to earn their credibility and authenticity. That comes from getting back to these basic components.

Bob Iger said, “A great story well told is a miracle and it’s not an accident.” I think that you have to get back to the core components of what a great story is. There are three things to that. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end and then there’s change over time and we forget. We’re so obsessed with the here and now. I think that’s a modern obsession that we forget that there’s a history and that people need to see a future vision if they’re going to buy into what you’re saying.

You said to touch on it, but can you double-click a little bit on when you do this training internally, what are the core components to it? Is it a 2-hour or a 4-hour thing? How do you structure it internally?

Generally, I try to do a two-hour theoretical deep dive. It takes into these components of scriptwriting and what makes a great story. From a scripting point of view, what is the essence of a great film? I focus on things like the Shawshank Redemption or the things that people always show up on people’s best film lists. However, introducing some of these ideas from neuroscience like the idea of mirror neurons, which are these pieces in our brain that light up when we see someone else getting hurt. The same neurons in our brain light up and that’s how we feel empathy.

It’s introducing some of these neuroscience elements and then putting them into a practical framework that people can go away and start crafting their own stories with. How do you start off with your beginning, your thesis, confront it with its opposite end thesis, and then synthesize it? It’s giving people practical frameworks that they can use for a podcast interview or for a presentation in front of thousands of people.

Do you find that you get to see who leans into it based on people who might loop back with you afterwards and say, “I was trying out what you talked about? Will you take a look at it?” Does that happen? How frequently does that happen?

Invariably, there are people now who are reaching out to me or contacting me to revisit some of the theories and to work with them, especially if they’ve got big presentations coming up. Somebody who I may have talked to a few years ago in the organization will ping me and say, “I’ve got a promotion coming up. Can you help me put the case together?”

If anyone is working in their organization, it’s a valuable thing to offer up your expertise to people who are not in your disciplinary area because it establishes you as a mentor for the organization. For me, the reason I’ve been with Indeed for years is I have deep relationships across all areas of the business. If you go back to storytelling, it came from me telling a story that I’m available for support and guidance around this thing that is core to every role.

I think that’s the amazing thing you see in the marketing. You’re a storytelling person but in reality, everybody is trying to get their story across. It becomes a foundational principle of getting ahead in your career. I think the best CEO and Chris Hyams is the CEO of Indeed, I’ve been working with him on the podcast ever since we all went home because of the pandemic.

We’ve been doing this weekly podcast about what was happening in the organization as a result of the pandemic. He’s a great communicator and storyteller. That’s how you get an organization as big as 15,000 people to move in a direction and maintain a focus on the values that you set out. I think it’s important.

It’s a great career learning as well. The initiative then that you took, I imagine that then you came up with the idea, you then approached whether you’re training team or HR to start this. No one came to you and said, “Aidan, why don’t we start a storytelling course?”

It comes from a deep love of learning. Those were the things that have driven me in my career again, if you’re learning in your role, if you’re excited about the things, the material that you’re consuming and then you’re sharing with others and you’re having an impact on them, there’s nothing better you could ask for in your career.

I found that sometimes the best way to solidify your own individual learning and expertise is by teaching. I found that the moments where I’ve had to organize something and teach a class, whether it’s internally or some or go into a class at college or MBA, are sometimes the moments that solidify your learning when you have to teach something in whatever role you are in.

That also clarifies your thinking. If you have to sit down and distill what you understand about a subject matter for somebody else to consume, you quickly see where your logical flaws are. If you’re plotting out a course, you see, “That doesn’t connect to the next point.” It’s a discipline in doing that as well, which also helps your ability to communicate with others and to work through the ideas that you have.

In marketing, there are so many theories out there. There’s the work of Peter Field, Karen Nelson-Field, Orlando Wood, and Mark Ritson. They’re all coming up with principles for marketing and then if you expand your remit to these other areas where you have media scholars like Neil Postman or scriptwriting theorists or storytelling theorists like Will Storr. It’s combining all those areas to see, “Is there a common thread that can help me think about things slightly differently?”

I think storytelling is about, “Can we see the way we view the world through a different lens?” When I think about equity and storytelling, there’s a quote by a teacher and thinker in the US, Dr. Rudine Sims. She says that people need mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. The mirrors to see themselves in, the windows, to look into the worlds of others, and sliding glass doors to step in and experience those other worlds. I think that changes how you see the world when you’re exposed to different stories from different perspectives by different types of people. That’s where true empathy can come from and that’s how you can help more people get jobs in my circumstance.

Every so often in these conversations, I hear a new term that I hadn’t heard before and there’s a word that you said which is the idea of story discipline. Talk about what that is, what it means, and why it’s important. Story discipline is having the same speaking points and being consistent but go deeper into that because I think it’s something that we often forget and discount.

Story discipline is simplicity, but also, it’s incredibly complex I would say. When I think about telling a story, stories that I change over time. We have to think about the discipline to understand what is our beginning. What is the thesis of our story? What are we setting out to say? Also, the change, the exploration of the world as it is, is a better way of explaining that.

You talk about scriptwriting as the inciting incident. What moves you from this act one, this beginning to the middle where we test our knowledge? In scriptwriting, we think about confronting this truth with its opposite. It’s where the monster comes out of the cave and attacks the village. That’s interrogating the world as we see it.

In the great stories, the monster turns out not to be evil, but there’s some reason it’s acting the way it is. In The Grinch, something happened at Christmas when the Grinch was a child and that’s why he hates Christmas but it is in that interrogation of the world as we see it, that suddenly the flaws in the model start emerging. When I think about the ESG brand work, that’s where you realize that a lot of the inequality in the system of hiring is down to the status quo.

Is status quo the monster?

The monster is the assumptions we make and the biases that exist. The status quo and the fact that we haven’t changed necessarily how the resume works as a technology. If you think about the resume as a technology, it’s a story. What people look for to evaluate the story is did they go to a good college? Did they work in a big organization?

It tells us little or nothing about the skills of that individual. We accept the resume as a technology we use to hire people and yet, is that the best story to find out if this person is the right fit or the right add? The idea of culture fit is another story we tell, but it’s a way of protecting the ins from others. Whereas culture add is a shift in mindset, isn’t it? If you bring somebody to add to your culture, I think that’s interesting.

That’s when you realize that the monster is something slightly different and that we have to deal with the new knowledge, then we need to move to resolving those things for good. If the world as we have seen it for years is flawed and we realize that because there is this challenge to our thinking, how do we fix it for the future? I think that’s where the best ESG storytelling happens where we think about a future of work with those things fixed.

What is a better technology for hiring than the resume? How do we do job descriptions better? How do we make our hiring process less onerous that get to the skills and tell people what a vision of that might look like? It’s because so often we as organizations leave it to the audience to assume the result of our information for them to picture what we mean and yet an audience needs to see it. You have to be able to give them. Nobody’s going to follow you on the yellow brick road if you don’t tell them where they’re going.

You have to tell people where they’re headed and give them a vision that they can attach themselves to. We go back to politics. That’s what a lot of the best and most persuasive politicians do. It’s not always for good, but they can talk about a world where the problems that you face now are fixed to get your votes. The dark arts may be described.

That’ll be a different episode that we do then, right?


Story discipline isn’t just a notion of hammering the same message. What you’re talking about is it’s that complex process that needs to happen in the inquiry and in defining those core pieces that you mentioned. Also, it’s consistently being able to talk about that story across in all the different ways.

One of the things that I got frustrated with in PR was the need to have a listing of key messages without understanding the complexity of the story we’re trying to tell and its multi-facetedness. Also, bringing in characters, emotions, situations, and conflict. I think intuitively, some of the best pure people I’ve known we’re able to do that but in general, key messages, core messages, once they meet the world, they fall away very quickly.

The best example was Linda Yaccarino at the Code Conference, the new CEO of Twitter. She arrived on that stage with her key messages and was confronted with questions that didn’t fit the messages and she didn’t have the story to rely on. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it went awry a little bit further there.

Expand on that as an example to deconstruct it. This is Linda Yaccarino who is coming in as a new CEO of X or Twitter. When you looked at that, what were the key messages that she had in her mind and how did this play out?

The best example is that to me her key message was it’s a new day at X and what the interviewer wanted to know was how are you changing Twitter or X from what it used to be and the challenges it faces. We go back to act one, she was not willing to talk about the history of the organization and the current challenges it faced for a new dawn. Also, you couldn’t go back in time because the messages were moving ahead. It’s X now.

That’s where it all went awry because as an audience and as humans, we need to know the past, the present, and the future to fully understand the story. If you’re not going to do it, you look either inauthentic or you’re hiding something. The story is not complete. We don’t believe you and you lose people. Going back to the story discipline, unless you know the beginning, middle, and end, you’re just going to be talking at people and you’re not going to persuade.

I reflect on a lot of what you’re saying. I look at a lot of times to what agency deliverables are in a brand process. “What’s that core brand narrative and manifesto?” Now, we need to build a messaging matrix. When I think about those liberals, they feel very disconnected from what you are saying that brands need.

Our messaging looks great on the slide.

What should replace it and maybe put a bow on this for us by talking about the past, present, and future story in Indeed’s context? How does this work? Instead of having the messaging matrix at Indeed, what do you have at Indeed that ties all of this together so we can have a parallel?

I think that is core to it. A new brand platform has to begin with the messaging. It has to get clarity about, “What does success look like?” The next stage of that is to build a story for each of those messages. It doesn’t have to be long, but there has to be a run through the mill of the three acts and then you can find out. I’ll give you a specific example. We’re doing this work now with our skills-based hiring narrative. Traditionally, what you would do is get your slide together, get your messaging, and what we want to say about skills-based hiring.

Skills-based hiring, define that and in contrast to what?

Skills-based hiring is essentially hiring people for the skills they have rather than the experience. It’s not looking at the university as a proxy for skills or the company you work for as a proxy, but hiring skills first, which will help a lot of the job seekers who face barriers get hired because it’s about looking at transferable skills. You may have worked in one industry. Are you a fit for a new industry? It’s getting out of the box of thinking that it has to be the university and the organization as a way of evaluating talent that has a history outside of the organization.

What is the story of skills-based hiring outside of Indeed? What is the story of how we are approaching that subject matter? You’re getting these things down and then seeing, “Is there a gap between the cultural discourse and what we’re saying?” Also, trying to fill that narrative out and fitting Indeed into the meta-narrative is what people talk about which is the story that’s being told without you outside of your organization.

It is through that work that you can fill in the gaps in the story you’re trying to tell. Also, when you’re out there in the wild trying to lead or build yourself a thought leadership platform, then you have the raw materials to be effective in any interview situation in building any source of credibility on the subject matter. That’s a lot of discipline. It takes a long time, but we’re doing that work. What will come out of it then is a very type three-act structure of the story but it has gone through a whole lot of research and development to get to that point.

When you then connect that up to even the broader brand purpose at Indeed, what is that? What’s the overarching story?

The world can work better is the overarching story. Even as I say the story being told clicks in completely. I’ve told you a whole lot of storytelling about how we’re getting to that point but if we’re saying Indeed, we believe the world can work better and it can work better through these ways. When you think about that concept and you can see that the world can work better, you have to understand why we work the way we do. What forces for change are operating in this moment?

Whether it’s remote work, whether it’s equitable hiring, equitable work, or whether it’s pandemic, all of these forces are playing out and who gets to shape that future? That’s one of the things as well. We need to talk about who gets to tell the story of the future we’re going to experience. We need to bring in as many voices and as many perspectives in that clash of ideas right now and be able to paint a picture of those forces brought together for good. We need to show vision. Indeed’s job is to show these visions of the future of work and the world working better. That to me is a very large and varied platform for storytelling as a brand concept.

When we connect it to the equity piece, you talk about the barriers to work and you talk about one. Can you outline and talk more about what those barriers to work are and what the sort of storytelling or things that you are doing as a way to bring to life Indeed’s role in helping to drive that change?

There’s a multitude of barriers preventing people from work but the four that we look at in and indeed our criminal record and fair-chance hiring. A fair chance is ensuring that more people with criminal records can get hired. Being a fair chance here is saying that we have background checks or the way that the hiring system works. It’s ensuring that you’re allowing as many people with criminal records.

One in three Americans have contact with the justice system in the US. There’s a huge amount of people who are prevented from getting back into the workforce because they have had encounters with law enforcement. We’re trying to figure out ways to influence more employers to be fair-chance hires. The second then is skills-based hiring. It’s helping people without college degrees get hired because there’s a huge amount of jobs that list a degree requirement that the job itself doesn’t need a degree. That’s because one of the things we do with job descriptions is you put in things like strong communicator or degree required without thinking just as proxies for whether this person’s talented or not.

We are trying to challenge those assumptions. There is a disability and ensuring that compliance is not only about meeting the bare minimums but also providing information about the accommodations you’re making and making sure that more people with seen or unseen disabilities are applying to your jobs. Also, veterans, which is specifically in the US. Making sure that people who are transitioning out of the military with a huge set of skills are encouraged to apply for civilian jobs.

The core of all of that storytelling is telling the story of real people, real experiences, making people understand, and building empathy with the people who experience those stories. I say it a lot. Stalin is quoted saying, “The death of one man is a tragedy and the death of a thousand is a statistic.” By individuating people’s stories and giving people characters or people they can root for, you’re building empathy with your audience.

Also, having the data and ensuring that we have interesting data points to point to the flaws in our thinking. Always ensuring that we have a set of actionable things that employers can do, whether it’s applying a fair chance filter to their job, listing their accessibility accommodations in their job descriptions, or removing degree requirements from jobs that don’t need a degree. Making sure that those actions are clear and then advocating and persuading employers to adopt them.

A lot of brands in that moment would be the ones telling that story but one of the things I love about your approach is through collaborations. That story is told by those individuals through the film fund. Can you talk a bit about that? A bit about what that initiative is and what core principles connect to it that any brand can learn from and apply.

Rising Voices is a film investment program that we’ve been running. We’ve launched season four and it’s in collaboration with the Emmy Award-winning producer Lena Waithe and her production company, Hillman Grad. What we have done each year is open applications to BIPOC, Black Indigenous People Of Color filmmakers to send us scripts for short films around the future of work.

Each year, we get upwards of 1,000 applications. We read through every script and then we choose ten and give them $100,000 to make their short film. We debuted it at the Tribeca Film Festival. I think that goes back to the core principle of who gets to tell a story. I think of Rising Voices as a listening exercise. We ask the BIPOC community to tell us what their vision for the future of work is.

We choose the scripts that connect with us and one of the principles that we ensure is that it’s not us choosing the scripts. We have our inclusion groups that represent within Indeed the BIPOC community within. They select the scripts that are most meaningful and then we step away. What’s the hardest thing I had to fight for in Indeed was that brands don’t get to give notes beyond the script.

Once we choose the scripts and they go into production, we do not give notes until they hit the screen at Tribeca. That’s why I talk about it as a listening exercise because not all of the films are congratulatory, happy, or celebratory about work. A lot of them are poorly tense for our future. We want to avoid whether it’s dislocation, isolation, climate change, fear, or racism. They confront the real subject matter.

I think for the filmmakers, it’s an opportunity to show they can work straight away in Hollywood. A lot of them have gone on to direct Netflix shows and to make films for Disney+. Also, to turn their film shorts into feature films but also that who gets to tell the stories matters. We could go in and hire our usual directors and make films about criminal records or about disability, but unless the community tells those stories themselves, and feature their characters and stories, it’s not going to have the same impact. Rising Voices began as an innovation within the organization and now it’s become a fully-fledged program. Also, we are learning about what the future of work could be through this and also, the future of work we need to avoid through this program. It has been incredibly meaningful.

It is helping inform the strategy. It becomes a listing exercise. There must be a delicate balance and how do you take this and connect it to driving some brand attribution or ensuring that it drives some type of brand lift? How do you go about that strategy and even measuring, if that’s part of it?

We have the usual brand metrics around the assets that we promote as part of the program. Whether it’s UAC or brand reputational metrics, we track all of those.

What is UAC just in case someone doesn’t know that?

That’s an Unaided Consideration. What job board comes to your mind? If they say, Indeed, that’s great and then aided consideration point. We track those but also the program itself is a job creation engine. We track what has happened from the idea that talent is universal. Opportunity is not. What happens when we can provide an opportunity? The program itself has created over 2,000 jobs for cast and crew and associated people in the project. That shows that opportunity has a butterfly effect.

We also have seen close to 100 film festival selections for these films. They go on and have an afterlife from the program. I think the real story then becomes what happens to the 30 filmmakers who go through the program. What happens to them post Rising Voices? The conceit was that giving opportunities to talent from these communities would change Hollywood from the inside.

I think we’re just at the beginning of that story but when you see them showing up on these big streaming platforms, when they’re getting funding for feature films. When they’re directing commercials for the likes of Jeep or when they’re directing music videos for famous artists, suddenly you’re saying, “The idea of this program was to show what we think and believe as an organization that then it is proving to be that case.”

I imagine there’s a connection to internal pride, engagement, recruitment, and retention as well that this can play into.

Even the selection of the films was shown at our marquee client conference, Indeed FutureWorks. It’s amazing how these assets show up both internally and externally. Our GVP of ESG, LaFawn Davis is going to the Lesbians Who Tech Conference in San Francisco. What she’s going to be presenting on stage are the Rising Voices films that feature LGBTQ issues. We’re going to have some of the directors there to speak on stage.

The assets that we’re creating and the story behind the program itself are fueling all of these other initiatives across the business. You’re then saying, “The investment looked big at the start, but suddenly, it becomes almost cost-neutral when you can use it in all these different areas of the business.” That’s what great storytelling does. It can be used in all these different areas because it’s not just a brand spot, a closed message.

It lives on in all these different ways and has all these different ways in and can be adapted to different audiences. We took Rising Voices to TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival. We launched a mentorship program associated with Rising Voices in Canada. The story grows and expands as a result of having that story discipline.

It’s a wonderful case study. One of the things that we talked about was that you said something that I thought was fascinating. You said that we obsess about marketing in our own marketing circles. Talk about what you mean by that and the importance of a cross-disciplinary approach.

I’ve been in marketing for years. People have such strong perspectives about the marketing discipline and whether it’s performance or brand or short-term versus long-term activation or the triple threat of attention. All of those principles are important, but sometimes we lose sight of the impact we are having as an industry on the wider popula.

Sometimes I feel like we need to get back to, “Is the work creating a good or are we advancing each other by pushing this work out into the world?” There are times when I see case studies on effective marketing and marketing effectiveness. To me, it’s not producing good in the world. It may be effective, but over time, do you want to sit back as a marketer and say, “I had a positive impact on the way people see the world,” or, “Did I make a lot of money for the organization?” I think that’s the conflict I find myself having sometimes.

Orlando Wood talks about in his book Lemon but he references Iain McGilchrist, the master and his emissary. Even in the last many years, we’ve become so obsessed with data because we have access to so much data. It leads to what we create and we have forgotten that there’s a greater whole. There’s a greater picture. We’re part of something bigger. We’re part of a society and I think it leads to both a lack of creativity, is the best way to describe it, or an ethos of pushing creativity further and expanding our creative expression and trying new things.

I think making mistakes with marketing and I think we need to get back to that idea of creativity being the fullest expression of our humanity, which may sound like a lot of BS, but to me, I’m exploring constantly how we can be more creative. How can we try things? How can we get back to that childhood need for newness, delight, and new ideas versus internalizing our belief system, sticking to our one story and then expecting different results from that process?

You clearly get a lot of your inspiration and source of knowledge from a lot of different places. How do you stay current now? Are you connected into different networks? Are there peers of yours and other organizations that are doing similar things? How do you stay fresh and keep abreast of what’s going on?

I order way too many books on Amazon. I have a ritual where I read a fiction book and a nonfiction simultaneously. Also, I have nonfiction on my desk and I’ll have my fiction novel at night. I’ll read both. I’ll make sure I read at least a certain amount of pages a day. I think constantly upgrading your operating system is important and then following the likes of Orlando Wood, Mark Ritson, or Peter Field on LinkedIn.

Also, following their conversations and their arguments is a good way of challenging your assumptions constantly. We’ve never had so much opportunity to learn for free as we do right now, whether it’s my podcast you’re listening to. I would religiously listen to it daily, and if you talk about storytelling, the New York Times is the preeminent storyteller. The way they are able to serve up complexity and issues through the various mediums, I think they’re amazing at that.

From an interviewer’s perspective, Michael Barbaro on The Daily Show asked the dumb questions so you don’t have to feel stupid, which I think is a beautiful idea as an interviewer. You’ll find that if you’re following all of those conversations, then they will lead you to the source material that you need to upgrade yourself with.

To me, it’s to continually follow, take notes, and understand the reference points, consume them, take what you want out of them, leave the stuff that doesn’t connect, and start building a more complex picture of the world through that discipline. I hope that answers your question, but some of it is habit-forming and others are staying open, curious, and challenging your belief system constantly.

Aidan, thank you so much for your time. This has been an incredibly insightful conversation on an important topic. Hopefully, everyone who’s read this will learn a lot from it.

It’s been an absolute pleasure, Gabriel. I’ve enjoyed it.